Many moons ago, shortly after I became politically active, I was discussing a promising rising star with an old hand at a Conservative Party function.
The conversation embedded itself firmly in my memory, for a number of reasons. I had commented, though not pejoratively in the way our opposite numbers had, on the fact that the rising star was only recently our rising star, having crossed the floor the year before.
Commenting wisely, as he only ever does, the old hand said that I was only young and may do the same myself one day. No, I protested, my blood runs blue – and it always will!
It’s true, the passion running through my veins for my beloved Gillingham Football Club will never die. The same cannot be said, though, of my support for the Conservative Party – the Party of which I have been a member since the age of 15 and for which I have campaigned at numerous elections, both here in Medway and beyond, since the age of 17.
For better or worse, the party in coalition is not the same party I joined some eight years ago. David Cameron took the helm with a mandate, including from myself, to deliver on his promise to change the Conservative Party and has taken to his modernisation agenda with great enthusiasm.
It is a modernising agenda which failed to persuade enough people to believe in the new party to deliver an overall majority in 2010 and pushed the Conservatives instead into an increasingly uneasy partnership with the Liberal Democrats.
It is a modernising agenda which has led to sweeping cuts across our armed forces, with new recruits being handed their P45s before they see action (but after we’ve incurred the tremendous expense of training them) while we send “aid” to stronger economies and countries with their own space programs.
It is a modernising agenda which has pledged to dramatically redefine the definition of marriage without a mandate from the British public. Indeed, not only was it not included in any of the main party manifestos in 2010, it is also notable by its absence in the coalition agreement – the document setting the direction of the strangest marriage of them all.
N.b. I note that my local Conservative MP is due to vote against the new definition of marriage, and Conservatives on my local council refused to be drawn on Labour’s petty partisan games to force the council to call on the three Conservative MPs to vote in favour, which I applaud on both counts.
It is for this reason, and many others besides, that, after considerable consideration and soul-searching, I have this morning written to my constituency chairman to inform him that I won’t be renewing my membership of the Conservative Party.
I realise that to some, this may come at a surprise, to others, not so much. I have, of course, been no stranger to controversy; I have been criticised, chastised and even threatened with expulsion for daring to have the occasional opinion which differed from that of the party, but I have remained broadly supportive.
I realise that, in government, every party must make tough decisions – but there is a clear destinction between tough decisions and wrong decisions and, sadly, the party’s priorities and direction no longer marry my own.
That is not to say that that will not change again in future, that the poles will not realign so that I am reunited with the party I have supported for so many years, but as things stand, I do not hold much hope on that happening.
I remain, as ever, a conservative at heart, if not, for now at least, a Conservative.